The Authors Guild has filed an amended complaint that expands its suit against university libraries over a book-scanning collaborative known as HathiTrust. In a release, the Authors Guild said its suit would be joined by a host of international author groups, as well as individual authors, including Norwegian academic Helge Rønning, Swedish novelist Erik Grundström, and American novelist J. R. Salamanca. The Authors League Fund, a 94-year-old organization supported by Authors Guild members that provides "charitable assistance" to book authors and dramatists, is also now a plaintiff, as it claims to be the holder of the rights to an "orphan" book by Gladys Malvern.
The suit is also now joined by the U.K. Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society, the Norwegian Nonfiction Writers and Translators Association, the Swedish Writers Union, and The Writers’ Union of Canada.
The amended complaint comes after a September 12th suit was filed in New York by the Authors Guild, two other international writers groups and eight individual authors, alleging that HathiTrust is built with millions of “unauthorized” scans created by Google. The suit seeks an injunction barring the libraries from future digitization of copyrighted works; from providing works to Google for its scanning project; and from proceeding with its plan to allow access to “orphan works.” It also asks the court to “impound” all unauthorized scans and to hold them in escrow “pending an appropriate act of Congress."
Following the suit, HathiTrust candidly acknowledged that its orphan works program was flawed, and suspended it indefinitely. "Once we create a more robust, transparent, and fully documented process, we will proceed with the work, because we remain as certain as ever that our proposed uses of orphan works are lawful and important to the future of scholarship and the libraries that support it,” noted a HathiTrust statement. Michigan librarian John Wilkin added that there was no harm, as no copyrighted books were made accessible to any students. “Our mistakes have not resulted in the exposure of even one page of in-copyright material being made available."
The authors, however, bristled at the libraries' plan to offer digital access to the academic community, even though the books were long out of print and earning no revenue. “How is it they couldn’t find Jack Salamanca?” asked literary agent John White, who has represented the author for more than ten years. “He’s a bestselling novelist, he’s lived in suburban Maryland for decades, he’s in the University of Maryland’s current online catalog as an emeritus professor, and he signed an e-book agreement for Lilith four weeks ago. It boggles the mind."
Authors Guild representatives noted that author Salamanca’s 1958 novel The Lost Country was on HathiTrust oprhan works list. Librarians did not elaborate on how the book made the orphan list. But a record search shows that the book was copyrighted in October, 1958, and was renewed in December 1986—seemingly a month late to keep the book’s 28-year copyright from lapsing. But, in one of many quirks in the complex copyright law, books copyrighted between 1950 and 1963 have more time to renew, until December 31 of the 28th year. The book has been long out of print.
In statement, the new plaintiffs joined in harshly criticizing the libraries. “If they want a digital book, they should pay for it," said Mats Söderlund, chairman of the Swedish Writers Union.
“They just wanted to release e-books for free," Greg Hollingshead, chair of The Writers’ Union of Canada, said of the program. "They don’t take literary property rights seriously, why should any of us trust their security measures? If they’re hacked, and digital files of 40,000 Canadian books are released, how are Canadian authors ever again to receive significant revenues from those works?”
Trond Andreassen, president of the Norwegian Nonfiction Writers and Translators Association said HathiTrust was "one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen.”
Scott Turow, president of the Authors Guild, even accused the libraries of the p-word. “Universities are important cultural bastions, valued by all of us,” he said, "In this case, university defendants are using their immunity from money damages to act as pirates, rather than custodians, of our literary heritage."
Formed in 2008, HathiTrust was initially led by the University of Michigan, a pioneer in library digitization efforts, and is now a collaborative effort, with over 50 partners and a digital collection of nearly 10 million digitized volumes. Officials at HathiTrust maintain they fully respect copyright. HathiTrust only offers full display of books determined to be out of copyright, but bibliograhic information for titles still under copyright. The effort is designed to "preserve content," notes Michigan’s John Price Wilkin. But, it would also "support access by print-disabled users, generate print replacement copies from the digital files when original print copies are damaged or lost, and serve as a body of content for large-scale computational needs," he noted, activities that would have been specifically sanctioned by the now-failed Google Settlement, supported by the Authors Guild.